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Maryland Mother Sues Company After Son Tests Positive for E. Coli

A Maryland mother whose 11-year-old son became sick after attending a Boy Scout camp in Goshen, Va., has sued a California food company that manufactured ground beef linked to an E. coli outbreak at the camp, according to court documents.

Zachary Yost of Columbia attended camp at the Goshen Scout Reservation between July 20 and 26 and later tested positive for the bacteria, the lawsuit said. Yost ate some of the ground beef that health officials later traced to S&S Foods, of Azusa, Calif., the suit states.

More than 30 other camp attendees, mostly Northern Virginia residents, have tested positive for the bacteria, and Scout officials closed the camp, near Lexington, Va., Aug. 3 for the first time in its four-decade history.

In recent weeks, the Virginia Department of Health has been tabulating data from more than 500 surveys of camp attendees and reviewing lab tests. Although no official source of the outbreak has been identified, officials have pointed to the meat, some of which might have been insufficiently cooked by Scouts over an open fire, as the likely source of the outbreak.

In her lawsuit, filed in Rockbridge County Circuit Court, Devon Drew claimed that the company's ground beef made her son sick. Zachary suffered from bloody diarrhea, cramping, fatigue and nausea, and his family incurred medical and travel expenses as well as the loss of wages due to his illness, the lawsuit said.

Seven Maryland residents had confirmed infections, and more than 80 people in the region exhibited symptoms of the illness, health officials said. William Marler, one of the attorneys for Zachary and his mother, said that Zachary was not hospitalized but that he has been largely confined to his house since becoming sick July 26, to prevent the spread of the infection.

"It has really curtailed his activities," Marler, a Seattle food-poisoning attorney, said yesterday. "The worry is he could really transfer it to someone else. He can't go swimming. His activities with his buddies are limited."

S&S officials did not return several phone messages seeking comment.

Health officials identified the bacteria found at the camp to be a harmful strain that can infect ground beef products during the slaughtering process. It can cause inflammation of the lining of the bowels and, in extreme cases, can lead to kidney failure and death, health officials said. Antibiotics typically are not helpful, and infections are often treated by drinking fluids and taking pain relievers.

On Aug. 6, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that S&S would voluntarily recall more than 150,000 pounds of frozen ground beef after laboratory tests traced the bacteria to the beef.

Nothing else at the camp has tested positive for E. coli, including water sources, but secondary means of transmission are still being investigated, said Christopher Novak, an epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health.

"We're still working on it," said Novak, who added that the final report is probably still weeks away. "Because it's so diffuse, both across Virginia and [Maryland] . . . the data analysis from the survey is taking a long time."

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